Senior Services Plus was recognized April 18 as the recipient of the AllenForce Diamond Award. According to AllenForce, the nonprofit agency was awarded because of its “Dedication, Determination and Drive.”
AllenForce’s mission is “to promote a healthy and successful lifestyle for all veterans of all eras of the United States Armed Forces and their families by providing positive networking, fitness and recreational opportunities and community events. AllenForce strives to bridge the gap between military and civilian life as veterans face an ever-changing adjustment process after serving our nation.”
Senior Services Plus was recognized for licensure of key personnel through AllenForce’s Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies Workshop in 2013 and 2014. SSP Community Based Services Director Devon Neal oversees the grants, planning and reporting of the program. Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies Coordinator Tiffany Lubinski handles day-to-day coordinating with the veterans. The nonprofit also has two Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies trainers working with veterans within the fitness center.
In 2013, Senior Services Plus received a grant from the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs to implement the Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies program. Senior Services Plus has received the grant for two consecutive years, allowing the agency to expand the program. As a Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies licensed facility, Senior Services Plus offers a free health club membership to veterans with a 10 percent disability rating or health need and one free membership to a person of their choice (battle buddy), personal training sessions and monthly networking events to veterans and their loved ones — grant funds permitting. In Alton alone, they have served 52 veterans in the past two years and have a waiting list of about 50 for the next program year beginning in July. “Creative new special event programming has started above and beyond the program model,” AllenForce president Donna Allen-Sebok said.
“They have had wait lists for veterans to get involved and through their other special events and outreach, have served hundreds of veterans,” Allen-Sebok said. “Some of their additional veteran programming includes a monthly Veteran Coffee Chat, which brings in speakers to share about resources in the community specifically geared at veterans and which facilitates a forum for veterans to share with each other.”
Neal said since beginning the program, she has observed improvement with each individual enrollee.
“It has been incredible to see how once they begin opening up, the healing starts in ways we could not have imagined,” Neal said. “We have a family team in our veterans. They support each other and get to know each other’s families and are there for one another when life comes to a stand-still with illness and death. They have found the bond again with other veterans that they once had out in the field or in the service office. The entire program is amazing and humbling to witness.”
Some of the veterans are volunteering in the Senior Corps Foster Grandparent Program as mentors and tutors in area schools. Veterans also have the opportunity to help at the center as volunteers and participate in outreach as a team. The newest project of volunteering is at the Juvenile Detention Center near Pere Marquette State Park.
Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies participants go bowling, fishing, skeet shooting and take trips to the driving range. The social networking events often connect them with an activity that has been lost because of illness or isolation.
Senior Services Plus staff continues to seek learning opportunities about military and veteran culture. In July 2014, the staff participated in Illinois National Guard training with Illinois Joining Forces to provide sensitivity training for civilians as to what it is like to be in the military. Boot camp exercises, weapons training, IED identification and more were introduced. The Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies program coordinator and personal trainer accomplished this two-day course in Marseilles, Ill.
“Devon Neal is right on time with data reports and photos to share regarding the program,” Allen-Sebok said. “A true partner in service, SSP is an inspiration and amazing role model to other Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies licensed facilities.”
Senior Services Plus is located at 2603 N. Rodgers Ave. in Alton. The agency is accepting veterans of any conflict with at least a 10 percent disability rating to the 2015 program. Anyone interested in the program is encouraged to contact Tiffany Lubinski at (618) 465-3298, ext. 109, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.